A letter from three former SEC chairmen, printed in today’s Wall Street Journal, is today’s big news. I am referring to: “Don’t Let Banks Hide Bad Assets: In times of distress, there’s always pressure to change accounting standards,” by Roderick M. Hills, Harvey L. Pitt, and David S. Ruder,” The Wall Street Journal, November 19, 2009.
Independent accounting standards have helped make American capital markets the best in the world. In making financial decisions, investors rely heavily upon the integrity of corporate financial reports prepared in accordance with accounting standards established by the independent Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). That board is supervised by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Now, the Obama administration is on the verge of transferring accounting standards responsibility from the SEC to a systemic risk regulator. Such a radical move would have extremely negative consequences for our capital markets.
Although there may be good reasons for establishing different regulatory capital standards for financial services firms, those reasons cannot justify dispensing with the FASB’s accounting standards. Acting in accord with powers given to it by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the SEC has formally recognized the FASB as the definitive standard-setting body, capable of “improving the accuracy and effectiveness of financial reporting and the protection of investors.”
The SEC treats accounting standards adopted by the board as authoritative. If the SEC has concerns about, or disagrees with, accounting standards promulgated by the FASB, it can refuse to give them deference.
As I blogged yesterday, it is a fact of life that accounting standards frequently have economic consequences. It is government’s responsibility to adjudicate between competing economic interests.
Banks are currently trying to use the political arena and the Congressional branch of government to influence accounting rules. Specifically, I am referring to an amendment sponsored by Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) to the Financial Stability Improvement Act, currently being considered by the House Financial Services Committee.
Although I do not favor the bank position on fair value accounting, I applaud their attempt to use Congress to influence accounting standards.
Why? The SEC has two relevant policies. First, any country adopting IFRS should use them lock-stock-and barrel. Second, it endorses the notion of one universal set of global accounting standards, and is poised to announce the adoption of IFRS for U.S. reporting.
It seems to me that the SEC is about to abdicate its responsibility and role, in oversight of accounting standards. If the SEC continues along its intended path, there will be no U.S. governmental control over accounting standards. Oh, there is the hope that the SEC can influence the IASB. Europe has that same hope. Last week we saw that several countries in Europe have concerns over the lack of European control over the IASB, and continued use of IFRS in Europe is a little doubtful.
Well, if the SEC is anxious to get out of the business of overseeing accounting standards (and adjudicating competing economic interests), then it seems reasonable to me that it is in the self-interest of concerned economic interests in the U.S. to preserve a governmental solution to oversight of accounting standards. As I blogged yesterday, any nation that cedes control over some aspect of its economy to an extra-national body is incredibly stupid. Today I add that it is brainless, dazed, deficient, dense, dim, doltish, dopey, dull, dumb, foolish, futile, gullible, half-baked, half-witted, idiotic, ill-advised, imbecilic, inane, indiscreet, insensate, irrelevant, laughable, ludicrous, meaningless, mindless, moronic, naive, nonsensical, obtuse, out to lunch, pointless, puerile, rash, senseless, shortsighted, simple, simpleminded, slow, sluggish, stolid, stupefied, thick, thick-headed, trivial, unintelligent, unthinking, and witless (synonyms supplied by thesaurus.com).
Consequently, I do not think it a bad thing the banks are appealing to Congress.
Now we have three previous Chairmen of the SEC speak out on the issue. Their position is that the SEC role in determining accounting standards should not be overridden. They cite the pre-eminence of U.S. capital markets and attribute it in part to American accounting standards. At first glance, this seems like a defense of continuing the status quo of FASB-SEC working partnership. I mean, if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
But that isn’t what they mean. There is no more vocal proponent of IFRS than Harvey Pitt, now writing for Compliance Week. Ruder has been interested in the U.S. adopting IFRS for decades.
What these three previous chairmen of the SEC mean is that the Perlmutter proposal upsets the applecart of the inexorable march toward IFRS in the United States. The SEC has no intention of letting anything get in the way of that.
Why can’t these guys say what they mean? Oh, they’re politicians.
It could very well be that the Perlmutter proposal is the last opportunity to derail IFRS adoption in the U.S. Defeat of his proposal would clear the way for an SEC announcement that the U.S. has adopted IFRS.
To be continued.
Debit and credit – – David Albrecht
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